Film Review – Eden
Eden is a look at a girl surviving under sexual enslavement. This is a hard issue to look at under any circumstances, and the uncomfortable nature of what happens never leaves the film. It shows what this life could be like with realism, though with some convenient events that help to give some hope in the end.
Eden (Jamie Chung), as she is called by her captors, was just a normal girl growing up in a small town with her parents, as we learn from a glimpse of her life before her captivity. The main focus is after we cut ahead, to a year into her enslavement. While jarring in the transition, it does make the viewing easier, as there are very few scenes of her or any of the girls in sexual situations. This is more a story of survival. Eden starts to get in good with Vaughan (Matt O’Leary), an up-and-comer in the enslavement organization. He is a junkie who is looking to get ahead and is upset being belittled by Bob (Beau Bridges), the boss of the warehouse the girls are kept in and a corrupt cop who keeps the operation ahead of the law.
Eden, wanting to better her situation as much as she can, starts by keeping track of money for Vaughan when he takes the girls out to parties. She also starts driving, taking phone calls, and even cleaning his apartment. What is most fascinating with these interactions is seeing some insight into Vaughan. He finds ways to justify his actions, stating how some of the girls had such horrible home lives that they are better off as slaves. He bonds with Eden even though he knows she will betray him at some point, but he also sees her abilities to help run the operation and acts proud of that. Still, the film smartly never makes him more sympathetic; he is always terrible in how he treats Eden—it’s just a different level of terrible, and we see how he lives with himself.
We can see that Eden, while becoming closer to the operation beyond being one of the sex slaves, never just gives in to her situation. She is looking for the smart way out that can help her the most. Upon first meeting her, Chung is convincing as an innocent girl who plays up her character’s terror with scary believability early on, and goes on to be able to contain her horror, as it will help keep her alive. Her eyes give the most away. She can do terrible things to help these people out, and she is horrified, yet we never blame her for what she has to do to survive.
If there is a failing in the film, it is in some of the narrative situations. There is a set-up near the start that is not handled as clearly as it could be. This leads to Eden having a run-in with someone moving around with Vaughn that feels a little too on the nose. While this provides some emotionally good moments, it feels a bit too convenient. Yet something like this is almost needed to shake some of the more uncomfortable situations.
Seeing this kind of operation in action is where the real terror is, and writer/director Megan Griffiths does not shy away from those facts: the inhuman conditions the girls live in, the fake attention Bob gives them to seem like he cares, even Vaughn’s delusions at how far he can take Eden into “accepting” this lifestyle not only as a slave, but as willing participant. Beyond these characters, though, are the people who pay for this service; we see parties with businessmen, college frats, married middle-aged men. All are willing and know about what they are paying for, but never question or care about these women’s situations. Even people who do have questions are easily shaken away by violence or a quick lie. It is an expert look at what these kind of individuals are like and the techniques they are willing to use to keep the girls under their control and keep the money moving.
Eden will be hard for many to watch, as it should be. Showing how this can happen speaks to the level of influence and compliance by so many individuals. Seeing this through one “normal” girl, we see the full level of how and why this happens, and what is needed to simply survive emotionally and physically. This is a hard-on look at one of the ugliest signs of humanity, and it is as insightful as it is horrific.
Final Grade: B+
Also, be sure to check out our interviews with director Megan Griffiths and actors Jamie Chung & Matt O’Leary.